Sen. Chuck Schumer ate his way into the fight to save the Red Hook food vendors last Saturday, grabbing some delicacies and saying the city should abandon a plan to sell the group’s vending permits on the open market — a scheme many believe will lead to higher permit fees that would force out the mom and pop vendors in favor deep-pocketed corporations.
Just one day after The Brooklyn Paper reported on the Parks Department’s open-bidding plan, Schumer (D–Park Slope) rushed to Red Hook Park to buy roasted corn and goat tacos and condemn the city plan.
Parks Department officials reiterated their contention that an open-bidding process for vending permits at the park would not imperil the 13 Latin American vendors who pay roughly $10,000 per summer for the right to sell tacos, papusas and huaraches.
“This is a prime example of New York grit and immigrant ingenuity,” Schumer said of the vendors, who have ringed the park for 30 years. “It’s a true labor of love. Removing this for something that might make a little more money for the city makes no sense. If there ever were a case where the rules can be scrapped, this is it.”
Schumer’s afternoon at the soccer fields came as the Parks Department scrambled to cool the hot pepper rush of public anger over the decision to ask other vendors to submit bids for the summer-long permit.
The city says that its intention is not to push out the vendors but to comply with regulations.
“We appreciate [the vendors] and want to keep [them],” said agency spokesman Phil Abramson, adding that the city would give the existing vendors the inside track over higher bidders.
That didn’t calm the vendors.
Fabian Perez, who sells goat and steak tacos with his mother, said the city just wants to make Red Hook “another Park Slope” and remove the ethnic vendors who brought families — and culinary tourists — to a once crime-ridden, but now gentrifying area.
The vendors’ leader, Cesar Fuentes, said he wants an “amicable” resolution, but his rhetoric is fiery.
“This is a David versus Goliath thing,” Fuentes said. “Ikea, one of the richest companies in the world is moving in. There will be all kinds of new people and business [interests] here. I think we may win the battle, but that doesn’t mean we have won the war.”
Some of the vendors’ most-loyal customers also saw the irony in the current battle.
“These guys were here when the neighborhood was a dump — but now Ikea and the real-estate brokers are coming,” said one huarache-eating Park Slope resident, who did not want to give his name (not because the issue is controversial, but because his wife “would be upset that I’m eating such high-fat food”).
“The city is just trying to cash in on the excitement that the vendors created,” he said.